One year after Kwame Brown's chaos, D.C. Council says it has moved on

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Phil Mendelson,D.C. Council,Mary Cheh,Jim Graham

When District lawmakers arrived for work on a steamy Wednesday last year, the John A. Wilson Building's rumor mill was churning with persistent speculation that June 6, 2012, would be Kwame Brown's final day as D.C. Council chairman.

Now, a year removed from Brown's abrupt resignation after federal prosecutors charged him with bank fraud, city lawmakers are acknowledging that although there may be more ethical and legal crises to come, they have largely moved on from a day last year that left some legislators in tears.

"The time of Mr. Brown's resignation was a low point for the council. Morale was in the tank," said Phil Mendelson, who became chairman just weeks after Brown's sudden exit. "People are feeling much better these days."

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, the city's longest-serving lawmaker, also said the 2012 convictions of Brown and former Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. had not derailed the council.

Gray probe continues
Although investigators started looking into Mayor Vincent Gray's 2010 campaign long before then-D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown resigned, the Gray probe continues. No one has been publicly charged in that case since last July.

"The council is a very strong institution, and no individual or series of individuals is going to have that much of a negative effect on the institution itself," Evans said. "The council is as strong as ever."

Although Brown was the last lawmaker to plead guilty to criminal charges, the council has not escaped attention for ethical lapses.

In February, lawmakers reprimanded Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham for misconduct tied to the city's lottery contract, and the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability formally admonished at-large Councilman Vincent Orange in May for his interference with a health inspection at a campaign donor's produce warehouse.

Mendelson acknowledged that the District, like most jurisdictions, could face more problems.

"Every government has its hiccups, and I expect that the council will have more hiccups," Mendelson said. "But I think we've made a lot of progress."

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who led the council for about a week between Brown's departure and Mendelson's election, credited Mendelson as a stabilizing force.

"The most important thing we did was to install Phil as the chair," Cheh said. "He's above reproach, quiet, methodical and a real medicine for chaos. That immediately changed the tone."

Brown, 42, has remained largely out of sight since his resignation, appearing in front of cameras only before and after court appearances.

He served one day in custody and finished a sentence of six months of house arrest last month. Brown has declined interview requests.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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